Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Dear Fellow Redeemed:
Whoever comes to me I will never drive away (John 6:37). That’s something Jesus said one time. It certainly relates to this text, with its opening sentence: Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. The Pharisees and scribes look askance at this (Aren’t righteous people supposed to avoid unrighteousness, after all?). They would prefer that in this case, Jesus does drive away those who come to Him. This text brings up questions like, are there some who aren’t worth saving? -and, are you worth saving?
If we’re to consider this with the proper level of seriousness, we have, first, to consider, how tragic is it that someone be lost? The Pharisees and scribes have a reasonable level of comfort with it. They’re grumbling at the audacity of Jesus receiving to Himself what they think of as bad people.
While sometimes we can lose track of how serious it is that someone be lost from God, Jesus tells a first parable this morning, that presents that situation as very serious. He compares it to a shepherd who loses one of his sheep. It has wandered off into almost certain danger. This is no good, Jesus is saying to these critics. Were it happening to any of them owning sheep, there wouldn’t be any question that he would drop everything and do what it took to find that one sheep and bring it back under his care. And having done so, he would consider himself to have accomplished something so monumental that it would warrant a celebration involving friends and neighbors (who also would recognize the significance of that sheep having been restored to safety).
In considering how serious it is that someone be lost from God, we need only look to
the cross, and to recall what happened there - the Son of God forsaken by the Father. God Himself punished as if He had committed every sin ever committed by humanity. We can look further back than that, even; to
the Garden of Gethsemane - to the anguish of soul that He endured as He considered what it would be like to bear the burden of every sinner (Matt 26:38). And we can consider
what the Bible says about what it is to be eternally lost from God in the place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Luke 13:28). Through the prophet Isaiah God describes it this way: “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh” (66:24).
About this prospect, Jesus said very graphically, that someone whose hand or foot causes him to sin and potentially face being thrown into hell, would be better off removing them so they don’t cause it (Mark 9:43-47). Jesus says in our text, that the joy that there is among those in heaven about all of the righteous persons who are penitent is exceeded only by that over the additional lost who come to repentance. They stand out for even greater celebration.
So, how tragic is it that someone be lost? Very tragic. The Pharisees and scribes should be ashamed of themselves for considering it so small a thing. They should be dreading that it could happen to anyone. As far as God is concerned, there are not any who aren’t worth saving. There are not any whose sins weren’t included with those for which Jesus died on the cross.
While Jesus, in this first parable of the lost sheep emphasizes being lost, with the second of the parables He emphasizes the search for the lost. Having lost one coin, a person does everything that is necessary to find what has been lost. Having found it, too, is a cause for celebration. Again, repentance is like someone finding what was lost. Repentance (not works or accomplishments) is what brings about celebration in heaven. The objective for all of us should be that the angels in heaven have joy over us because of our repentance. In repentance, we are receiving for ourselves what Jesus offers.
And if I ever go astray, my wayward soul He turneth,
To save the lost, to guide the way, to this He ever yearneth,
He leadeth me, my soul to bless in His own path of righteousness,
For His name’s sake and glory
Those words from the third verse of our hymn (taken from Psalm 23, of course), demonstrate what’s happening in our text, don’t they? Those who have gone astray have come to the one who turns their souls. He yearns to save the lost, to guide them in the way. We can be reminded of St. Peter’s words: For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1 Peter 2:25). Jesus said of Himself that He’d come to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). Given the alternative between Him and the Pharisees and Scribes in our text, we certainly prefer that He be the one leading us in the path of righteousness. Sinners come to Him and find mercy.
Could it be the case that our names could ever have been filled in, in place of the Pharisees and scribes in that statement? Could someone say, given the alternative between Jesus, and you or me, they would certainly prefer that He be the one leading them in the path of righteousness? For someone to say that, they would have had to see in us the same tendency as in those Pharisees and scribes. They would have had to see in us the tendency to have a reasonable level of comfort with some being lost from God’s kingdom. They would have to have seen in us the tendency to look askance and give the impression that we’re thinking, Aren’t righteous people supposed to avoid unrighteousness, after all? They would have to have felt from us the preference that in this case, Jesus does drive away those who come to Him.
And in order for us to have given that impression, we would have to have been proud like those Pharisees and scribes. We would have to have been diminishing our own offenses, and amplifying those of others. We would have to have been considering ourselves worthy of God’s mercy, but others, not. And then we would have been demonstrating through that sin, our own unworthiness.
But Jesus, in our text, isn’t only considering worth saving those who are drawing near to Him. His words for the Pharisees and scribes are merciful words. They are even more in need than the ones about whom they’re grumbling; but Jesus’ great aim toward them is that they be among the repentant lost celebrated by the hosts of heaven. It has been the same where you’re concerned. He brought you to repentance and faith in your Baptism. He nurtured these through His powerful Word throughout your life. When you sinned - for instance in self-righteousness, and lovelessness like Pharisees and scribes - He aimed to turn you like our hymn says, to turn you with His Law so that you would humble yourself, recognize your sin, repent, and be restored to Him. At all times, to Him, you have been worth saving, just like every other person God has created.
You were so worth saving despite your sins, that He took your flesh upon Himself so that He could remake in perfection what you have destroyed in unfaithfulness, and so that He could burden Himself with your burden, removing it from you entirely.
As you come to the rail this morning, have in your mind and heart Christ’s Words, Whoever comes to me I will never drive away (John 6:37). He died for every one of your sins. They don’t belong to you anymore, with Him having taken them (with Him having forgiven them). You are found in Him. The angels in heaven are rejoicing. Amen.
Other Lessons for the Week:
“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.
1 Peter 2:21-25
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
St. John 10:11–16
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.